“God Dammit Dick! We don’t have time to discuss this!”
“Then tell me Bruce! Why the hell did you bring it up?!”
Then that batglare. Always with the batglare. Then that pile of rubble swallowed my best friend and what’s left of two of my baby brothers and the day got even worse than it already had been. While keeping my gimp hand to my chest I vaguely remember digging with my other hand and then Bruce screamed something along the lines of “Stop it’s unstable!” and so I ended up here somehow, sitting Indian style rocking my injured hand slowly. I’m vaguely aware of how stupid I look but I also don’t give a fuck.
Slowly but surely I come back to my senses. The sirens. The heat from the fires. The cold September wind. The fast beating of my heart. How the cloud of smoke nearly blots out the sun. The pain in my hand. The numbness of my brain. I stand, unsure of what to do, I have tunnel vision, focusing on the soles of Barbara’s sneakers. I stumble back to the mound, the panic rising over the static in my brain. “Barbara? Can you hear me?” I look up to meet Bruce’s anxious eyes. He puts a hand on my shoulder and for the first time in a long time speaks to me softly. “Dick, that’s the third time you’ve asked her that…” What? Is it? Wait… I assumed that given my training in stressful situations I would be able to handle this with ease, but there’s something very different about this. The lack of control I think. That sounds like something a sane person would say.
“Yes I can still hear you Dick.” answers a tearful voice from the rubble. Barbara. “Oh… I’m just triple checking…” Bruce steps back and turns to a team of fireman, and begins talking in his batman voice. I try to focus on something else… I settle on trying to make Babs feels better, which, if I’m being honest with myself, is impossible. But I’ve always loved a challenge. “Hey Babs?” “What??” Note: In times of great stress Babs is a little snappy. “How are you holding up? Is Dami still with you?” “Yes he’s still with me, and not great in case you haven't noticed!” I hear her start to hyperventilate and I find myself at a loss for words. “I… Don’t know what to say Babs. I know that’s really unlike me but I don’t.” We’re both silent for a while, both just trying to stay breathing. Then out of nowhere a fond smile creeps its way onto my face. “You know if Jason was here he would say that hell was freezing over or some snarky remark like… that…” Jason? I wonder where he is. No. Focus on Babs. “Yeah you’re right, he probably would.” she responds in a strained voice. “Dick something is wrong, like something is really wrong.” I chuckle slightly. “Yeah Babs I can tell, you’re half buried under a mountain of rub-” “No.” She interrupts. “Dick I- I can’t feel my legs.”
The smile falls immediately from my face. And my mind finds itself caught in a riptide. It’s being pulled down under the water again and again, gasping for explanations but finding only dark water. In my struggle I’m reduced to a child, shivering in the cold September winds, helpless and afraid. “Bruce?” I whimper, cradled in the unfairness of it all. He doesn’t hear me, and I feel the darkness seeping closer. “Bruce?” I try again, deafened by the sounds of the big top, the sound human bodies make when they fall from the trapeze. “BRUCE!” I awake back in reality, and he whips around to face me, a million expressions racing across his face. I find that I’m on my knees and I think about standing but I don’t have the energy.
He walks over and bends down to meet my distant expression. “Dick, what’s wrong?” My throat constricts painful and I find it suddenly hard to swallow. “Barbara - she can’t…” I look back to the soles of her shoes. “Her legs. She can’t feel her legs.”
After that I stopped fighting, I just let myself break a little, let the smoke seep through the cracks. My mind slips through and I find myself several years in the past, warm and safe, the smell of fresh stain and antiseptic. Cookies, cookies that have gone cold, forgotten. Then… Then I remember, and the room turns cold.
I was injured after a mission with the Titans, Terry had said that he saw somewhere that Jason had been killed. I managed to get myself over to the computer and hack into Bruce’s files and sure enough, there were the words: JASON TODD: DECEASED. I just screamed, I didn’t know what else to do, I had no other way to voice the pain I felt. I was never a good enough brother, I was never around enough, I never loved him enough, I was never good enough for him. He deserved so much more.
Now here I am, sitting on the couch in the study, wringing my hands, wiping my eyes, trying to swallow the emotions I feel. Then Bruce walks in as if everything is as perfect as could be and it’s all I can do not to leap down his throat. But I keep calm, I let the tears show, and I ask him how it happened, and the fact that Jason was trying to save his mother just makes the whole situation 100 times worse. I sink as far back as I can into the well maintained leather and spend the next hour or so just sitting, staring, and trying to formulate some kind of explanation.
Bruce didn’t join me in my silence, he left just mere seconds after telling me what happened, not able to face himself he put on his cowl and disappeared violently into the night. It was Alfred who walks into my line of vision, and distracts me, tells me of how well Jason was doing in his classes, how his face lit up when he saw the library for the first time. How he loved Jane Austen. How excited he was to meet his Mother.
A special kind of pain was born inside me that day, one that flares up gently every time I look at Jason, one I didn’t think would ever be more painful than it was that day. Yet here I am, immobilized by that same pain, because this time, 3 of my siblings might die, and you know what? I’m not sure if I would survive that. So I just sit here, and let myself be frozen by the fear and the pain and everything else that fits the boxing gloves.
7 firemen and Bruce drag Babs out of the rubble, pulling her out slowly and as gently as possible, they waste no time strapping her to a gurney and rushing her off a few blocks away to the makeshift medical center. Next comes Damian, eerily silent as he’s pulled from the darkness. There are tear and blood trails down his face, and he holds his arm to his chest. His face, expressionless. Bruce takes him from the arms of the fireman, and falls to the ground with him in his grasp. He stands Damian up and wipes his cheeks with his thumbs, ruffles his hair and folds him to his chest. If I hadn’t known them I would think they were just a normal father and son, ones that show love for each other regularly.
After they take Damian away with Barbara it takes them several minutes to free Tim from the rubble. Then they drag him out… When they drag him out. Something inside me loses all of its strength and I collapse into myself again. I’m vaguely aware of the anguished cry that rips itself from my heart at the sight. Greif plucking with ice cold fingers over my vocal chords, painting the young corpse with jagged cries. His eyes, lay open. A fine layer of fog conceals the fierce blue that lived beneath. One arm drags dislocated from the socket. His chest collapsed in several places and his -- what used to be his pelvis and left leg is crushed almost beyond recognition.
They lay him on the ground by Bruce’s feet, and if I were capable of movement I would be right by his side, but I’m not. I’m stuck to the spot as if nailed down. So I watch from a distance as Bruce’s knees collapse, and he gathers Tim in his arms and weeps. At first I think the grief has gotten to me, and I’m seeing things but yes, there he is, the dark knight, weeping.
Then I weep too.